All posts filed under: Italy

Sicilian, Sartorial, Sensual: Planeta Dinner, W1

Sitting at dinner with Francesca Planeta, it did not surprise me when she told me her wine had run out at Milan Fashion Week. I know from experience, these wines are seriously loved by my friends in the fashion industry. But what does come as a surprise is to learn Planeta has only been making wines in Sicily since 1985. Think Italy and wine: what comes to mind is old estates with centuries of history. Then there’s Sicily… dormant for the past 4000 years, it has recently become a hotbed of wine innovation. The world’s love affair with Planeta started with their Chardonnay. We tasted the 2000 vintage and I was instantly back in the 1990s: poured from a double magnum, it’s a full-bodied Chardonnay with prominent oak, a style which has now fallen out of fashion somewhat. But that was then: this is now. Contrast the latest 2009 Cometa Fiano. It’s a cutting-edge style of fabulous pure fruit expression from this grape from Campania which, had a consultant exclaim on first tasting, “When a wine comes out …

dark sunglasses required: sexy Sicilian wine

There’s a stuffy image to the wine industry. It’s where middle-aged men with cigars who imagine themselves out every night patting strippers on the bum between glugs of Bordeaux as they discuss wine like stock prices. Sicilian wines are not for them. There’s also the people who go to the supermarket on the way home from work, get home and perfunctorily open a bottle to watch television for a few hours before going to sleep to do it all again the next day. Sicilian wines are not for them, either. Sicilian wines are TROPPOOOO BUONNNOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! For the first time in ages, I had the Planeta Cometa Fiano and I felt about it exactly as I always did: affable, over-the-top glamorous, completely unpretentious and overall just delicious. If Dolce & Gabbana had a wine then it would be close to this. This is effortless Sicilian style. On a grey London day, I wanted to reach for my dark sunglasses to pour it. The colour is golden straw like mid-afternoon sunshine by the beach. It had a glamourous …

Controversial Freisa: why this is an important wine variety

“They can be fussy, unreconstructed; most of them don’t want to go along to get along. They have an attitude, an edge.” – Randall Grahm, Preface to Wines of Italy, Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology There comes an evolution in the taste buds when tasting wine and that can be summed up in one word: bitterness. Bitterness is an acquired taste. A five year old does not like bitterness. Did you ever mistake a cold bottle of Indian Tonic Water with Schweppes Lemonade on a hot summers day as a child? Ha! It is a shock. That is perhaps why Freisa d’Asti from Piedmonte in North-West Italy divided the critics. Hugh Johnson described Freisa d’Asti as being “immensely appetizing” to Robert M Parker Jr described Freisa as producing “totally repugnant wines”. But I defy you to come to a firm conclusion on it from a simple sip-and-spit basis. This is never going to be a mainstream wine. Not because it’s not a good wine, it is an excellent wine, but because it does sophisticated things …

What is “vino da meditazione”?

I love reading wine tasting notes in Italian. I always want to sing it back. For example, What is a vino da meditazione? It’s an intriguing term often seen in Italian wine notes. It looks like the word “meditation”, but it’s not quite. Coined by famous Italian gastronome, Luigi Veronelli, meditazione is often used to describe sweet passito wines or red wines aged for a long time such as Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino. From my readings in Italian, a vino da meditazione can mean 1. Calm, sweet wine (without bubbles); 2. Important red wines; 3. Wines with a long vinification process from vine to bottle such as Brunello di Montalcino Riserva (at least 5 years in oak), Barolo Riserva (5 years) or Vin Santo (8 years in oak); 4. A way to drink these wines with an attitude of understanding its complexity:”Stop and slow down – this wine should be approached calmly, reflectively to understand its complexity and composition”.   Holy Wine A classic vino da meditazione is Vin Santo (holy wine), a Tuscan sweet wine, which became popular during the …

the blue wines of Tuscany

At first everything seemed fine, more than fine: from left to right, older terracotta-coloured wines from Chianti to the latest bright purple wines from the Tuscan coast of Maremma. The new 2006 Coevo sat in the middle: a perfectly balanced blend of two distinct regions, Chianti and Maremma. But then out came the Michelin-star Chef, Massimo Bottura, to introduce the food. Initially, I thought it was simply a good idea to have food with a Tuscan wine tasting, for Tuscan Sangiovese wines are often completed on the palate by food. But Massimo Bottura, from Osteria Francescana in Modena, a 2-Michelin star restaurant (Bottura himself is ranked number 6 in the world), was not here just to cook, he was here to interpret the ideas behind2006 Coevo wine through his food. Suddenly, the tasting shifted to a whole new level… Bottura’s ideas flew as thick as aged Balsamic yet as fast as a Ferrari (both also at home in Modena where Osteria Francescana is based). Bottura insisted, the modern chef needs to have their feet on earth and mind …

How to do the new austere: a baby Barbaresco

This is how to do the new austere well: with a light, baby Barbaresco style wine from a near-abandoned region in Piedmont. A fabulous wine yet with an honest country heart: violet, roses after rain, stewed cherry, and fresh-smelling wet forest twigs and gun shop, the expansive feeling of the perfume slowed down by refined tannins, like stopping on a mountain path to take photos of a richly-coloured sunset with a super-sharp lens.

Changes in Rosso di Montalcino DOC race ahead

The red colour of Italian cars is not just any red. It comes from a long history of rules, mostly developed between the World Wars, from when car racing began. Different countries were assigned different colours: blue for French cars, white for German cars and, of course, British cars were racing green. Red was assigned for Italian race cars and now, the red colour of Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Ferrari is instantly recognisable as a “race red” (or Rosso Corsa). All these rules have a history, which gain sense from the time, but most people today know what is meant by Ferrari Red. Just as with Italian car colours, and a lot of things in Italy, Italian wines have many rules. So it is worth considering what the proposed changes in the rules mean, especially when on the 15th December, the 15 board members proposed to change Rosso di Montalcino from 100% to 85% guaranteed Sangiovese.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG vs European Union

Some headache! The morning after the party to celebrate 30 years of DOCG status in the ancient Tuscan town of Montepulciano, winemakers were making their way to Brussels to confront the European Union’s decision to change Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG to simple “Montepulciano”. What’s the problem? Montepulciano has 6 syllables already, that is enough for a name isn’t it? And isn’t Montepulciano just a cheap red wine found in most supermarkets for around £5? What’s the problem with shortening it? The problem is this: say Montepulciano and most people think

Laughter in the Dark: Salice Salentino Riserva 2005 (and some tips on enjoying Italian wine)

Last night I tasted the Salice Salentino 2005 Riserva by the Candido family in Puglia. Salice Salentino is the name of a style of wine made from the Italian grape, Negroamaro, found on the Salentino plain located in Puglia, the heel of the “boot” of Italy. As Nabokov puts it, “This is the whole of the story and we might have left it at that had there not been profit and pleasure in the telling…”

Dinner with Francesca Planeta

At a press dinner with Francesca Planeta, it did not surprise me when she said her wine had run out at Milan Fashion Week. These wines are seriously loved by the fashion industry. What does come as a surprise is to learn Planeta has only been making wines in Sicily since 1985. Think Italy and wine: what comes to mind is old estates with centuries of history. Then there’s Sicily… dormant for the past 4000 years, it has recently become a hotbed of wine innovation. The world’s love affair with Planeta started with their Chardonnay. We tasted the 2000 vintage and I was instantly back in the 1990s: poured from a double magnum, it’s a full-bodied Chardonnay with prominent oak, a style which has now fallen out of fashion somewhat. But this is Chardonnay: there is no other grape that is dictated so much by fashion.  Contrast the latest 2009 Cometa Fiano. It’s Sicilian style, full of fabulous pure fruit expression that had a consultant exclaim on first tasting, “When a wine comes out like this, it’s indigenous in …

The Self-Assembler: Hofstätter Pinot Bianco, Alto Adige

Alongside a glass of champagne or a cab ride in the rain, a good bottle of wine is one of life’s affordable luxuries. Yet low-key, easy luxury is the most difficult thing to achieve; partly because it involves an element of effortlessness. That is why I was interested to try the Pinot Bianco by Hofstatter, from Alto Adige in North East Italy. From my observations of people whom I consider have good taste in wine, a group with a fine balance between open-mindedness and discriminating taste, this was one they all kept returning (at £22 per bottle). At first, the luxury was not as effortless as I expected. Had I been delivered a wine as an IKEA furniture kit? I found a flat-pack of minerals, sheets of white fruit and a spray can of pale oak, each individual component of tremendous quality but all in separate boxes, leaving me at a loss how to put it all together. After a few hours it began to reassemble itself into something solid yet ethereal. The original crystalline …

dark sunglasses required: sexy Sicilian wine

There’s a stuffy image to the wine industry. It’s where middle-aged men with cigars who imagine themselves out every night patting strippers on the bum between glugs of Bordeaux as they discuss wine like stock prices. Sicilian wines are not for them. There’s also the people who go to the supermarket on the way home from work, get home and perfunctorily open a bottle to watch television for a few hours before going to sleep to do it all again the next day. Sicilian wines are not for them, either. Sicilian wines are TROPPOOOO BUONNNOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! For the first time in ages, I had the Planeta Cometa Fiano and I felt about it exactly as I always did: affable, over-the-top glamorous, completely unpretentious and overall just delicious. If Dolce & Gabbana had a wine then it would be close to this. This is effortless Sicilian style. On a grey London day, I wanted to reach for my dark sunglasses to pour it. The colour is golden straw like mid-afternoon sunshine by the beach. It had a …

Amarone: This is not a love song

If logic applied, I would not love Amarone della Valpolicella. To say it’s a big style of red is an understatement; it’s dramatic, high in alcohol and generally quite expensive. It has been said, Amarone “is seductive, sexy, confounding… an aphrodisiac”. Naturally, in the face of slavish devotion, I tasted it many times with regulation thin lips and furrowed brow. Despite my best attempts to be cynical, I could not help but love the slightly debauched characters of licorice, smoke and dark fruits. Before long, I was singing the same love song, too. Amarone is unique and intimate, deep and sometimes sweet. Like a good love song, it sometimes has a slightly bitter edge. What I suspect is part of the appeal of Amarone is the way in which it is made. Even if an ardent Amarone fan knows nothing about the passito method of drying grapes on straw mats for months and then extracting the juice, there is shock of recognition in finding this out, like hearing the real story behind a favourite lyric. …

Controversial Freisa

“They can be fussy, unreconstructed; most of them don’t want to go along to get along. They have an attitude, an edge.” – Randall Grahm, Preface to Wines of Italy, Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology   There comes an evolution in the taste buds when tasting wine and that can be summed up in one word: bitterness. Bitterness is an acquired taste. A five year old does not like bitterness. Did you ever mistake a cold bottle of Indian Tonic Water with Schweppes Lemonade on a hot summers day as a child? Ha! It is a shock. That is perhaps why Freisa d’Asti from Piedmonte in North-West Italy divided the critics. Hugh Johnson described Freisa d’Asti as being “immensely appetizing” to Robert M Parker Jr described Freisa as producing “totally repugnant wines”. But I defy you to come to a firm conclusion on it from a simple sip-and-spit basis. This is never going to be a mainstream wine. Not because it’s not a good wine, it is an excellent wine, but because …

What is a ‘vino da meditazione’?

I love reading wine tasting notes in Italian. I always want to sing it back. For example, What is a vino da meditazione? It’s an intriguing term often seen in Italian wine notes. It looks like the word “meditation”, but it’s not quite. Coined by famous Italian gastronome, Luigi Veronelli, meditazione is often used to describe sweet passito wines or red wines aged for a long time such as Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino. From my Italian sources, a vino da meditazione can mean: 1. Calm, sweet wine (without bubbles); 2. Important red wines; 3. Wines with a long vinification process from vine to bottle such as Brunello di Montalcino Riserva (at least 5 years in oak), Barolo Riserva (5 years) or Vin Santo (8 years in oak); 4. A way to drink these wines with an attitude of understanding its complexity:”Stop and slow down – this wine should be approached calmly, reflectively to understand its complexity and composition”.   Holy Wine   A classic vino da meditazione is Vin Santo (holy wine), a Tuscan sweet …

the blue wines of Tuscany

At first everything seemed fine, more than fine: from left to right, older terracotta-coloured wines from Chianti to the latest bright purple wines from the Tuscan coast of Maremma. The new 2006 Coevo sat in the middle: a perfectly balanced blend of two distinct regions, Chianti and Maremma. But then out came the Michelin-star Chef, Massimo Bottura, to introduce the food.   Initially, I thought it was simply a good idea to have food with a Tuscan wine tasting, for Tuscan Sangiovese wines are often completed on the palate by food. But Massimo Bottura, from Osteria Francescana in Modena, a 2-Michelin star restaurant (Bottura himself is ranked number 6 in the world*), was not here just to cook, he was here to interpret the ideas behind 2006 Coevo wine through his food. Suddenly, the tasting shifted to a whole new level… Bottura’s ideas flew as thick as aged Balsamic yet as fast as a Ferrari (both also at home in Modena where Osteria Francescana is based). Bottura insisted, the modern chef needs to have their …

vermentino di sardegna: what’s cool in wine right now

Wines from southern Italy are absolutely huge right now. There are, of course, the Sicilian wines from Planeta, the incredible Barrua as well as anything from Campania. But unexpectedly one wine in particular, from Sardinia, has people spontaneously talking and coming back for more: it’s Vermentino di Sardegna. Just as Sardinia is a discrete, and somewhat rustic, place to take a luxury holiday, Vermentino di Sardegna has the same exotic yet quiet and relaxed feel. The volcanic soils create a thrill of minerality (which gives it a sort of edgy wit that satisfies the intellect) while the Mediterranean warmth has given it a deeply sensual character (satisfying the body). Like a good holiday it seems to satisfy mind, body and soul. And wallet. Like some other little known Italian grape varieties, Vermentino is very good value, too. Relaxing with a glass on a sunny afternoon is as comforting as finding a tax haven for the brain. One glass and a slab of Pecorino Sardo cheese and it won’t matter whether you are holed up on …

Were Dreams (now it is just wine!)

Here is an Italian white wine from Friuli-Venezia that captures my heart: Jermann’s Were Dreams, or the full title – Were Dreams (now it is just wine!).  I can hear the tut-tutting already. What a silly name for a wine! And yet, and yet… it’s precisely the playful silliness that makes me love it even more. What does he mean? All those grapes were dreams and now it just wine… I once had high ideals and now it’s all mundane reality? Or even… philosophize as much you like about the stuff, but it’s meant to be drunk and enjoyed. Whatever the name means, Jermann can afford to have the last laugh: he is one of the masters of the N-E Italian region. And it is his light-touch that give his white wines a depth of minerality and subtle sophistication to make a bottle the most entertaining dinner guest. His Were Dreams is no exception. However, don’t expect much small talk here. It’s definitely for those who love big oak in their Chardonnay (and you know who you are!). After a few hours …

simple tastes…

Last month, WWS delighted in Falanghina. But I should be more honest with you. This is not the only great white wine from Campania. Falanghina’s other sisters are just as stunning: both Greco di Tufo and Fiano d’Avellino. Part of me, selfishly, wants to keep these three wines a secret; but, the sheer nature of these wines are so generous, making it impossible not to want to share them. And yes, I am missing the sun. Link: Guide to Italian Wines – Campania

Castello di Ama: chianti, architecture and art

Nestled in the commune of Gaiole in Chianti, in the province of Siena, lies one of the most beautiful modern wineries I have ever seen. The premier Chianti Classico estate, made of mirror, is a modern building, not beautiful in itself. What makes it beautiful is the idea it reflects along with the non-stop undulating olive-clad hills and vineyards. The building becomes a complete merging of the Chianti landscape into the winery. Apart from the inspired architecture, it is also home to an excellent collection of contemporary art. Owners Marco Pallanti and Lorenza Sebasti showcase their wines amongst music and art works. “An important work of art will live on through time and will always have something to relate to the viewer, just as a good bottle of wine will age with style, harmony and balance, and still communicate its unique history…” (from Decanter Magazine). Metaphorically, Chianti di Ami’s architecture is the greatest expression of terroir I have ever seen: where the land reflects itself through the winery, and finally, expressing itself in the glass. …